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Creating an area for Outdoor Learning

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Aaron Piper

on 22 February 2014

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Transcript of Creating an area for Outdoor Learning

Before designing an outdoor learning space it is advisable to first gain a sense of current opinion from everyone involved in the school. Once we have this feedback we have better awareness of how to create an environment which caters for all. Every school has different needs and sits within different social contexts, therefore a bespoke outdoor learning environment is going to be far more effective than one plucked from a catalog.

Creating an area for Outdoor Learning
Involving Children
Involving Children in the design process is the key to building an effective and sustainable learning environment. One way to include children in the design process is to ask them to evaluate the school facilities. Children can give tours of the school grounds to their parents or a soft toy. Prompting the children with questions such as: 'can you show/tell the bear what happens in this part of the garden', 'If your bear wanted to hide where would he go?' Once thoughts have been shared a book or display can be created to show the opinions of learners. Once we have analyzed this information adults have a better understanding of the current strengths and areas to improve from the perspective of the learner.
Access to outdoor learning spaces
Things to consider
When planning an outdoor learning environment within a school you should consider:
Sense of Ownership
Health and Safety
Curriculum relevance
Learning Objectives
All of these elements combined will dictate how the school facility will be deigned and how it will be used.
Planning a Build

"Everyone involved in the consultation has been enthusiastic about the potential. The excitement generated by this type of project is incredibly rewarding. We are empowering those who will make use of the space, and therefor ensure the sustainability of the design."
Teacher from Case Studied School
Involving Parents
Health and Safety
Research has shown that around the globe, children and young people are experiencing a change in the way they experience and learn through the natural, cultural and physical world. This change, signified by many parents withdrawing their children from public spaces such as parks, streets and community facilities is predominantly fed by a culture of fear and insecurity. Perceptions of risk can limit children's opportunities to learn outside. To provide a space which enables children to take risks and experience the outside world means educational establishments are giving children access to beneficial cognitive and physical experiences they would otherwise be severed from. Children need situations in which to challenge themselves, discover their boundaries and reflect on their actions in order to self regulate their risk taking. The outside area should be free from unaccep
table hazards such as needles,
broken glass, animal feces and damaged equipment. A
common sense approach to risk
needs to be taken; soon children and staff will feel
comfortable and confident in
taking controlled risks and in doing so developing th
eir competencies, engage with
exiting lessons and challenging themselves and other
s. Thus becoming independent
self motivated learners; a 'whole young person'.
Learning Objectives
Poor access to outdoor learning spaces is a problem many children face in their educational and social environments. For the first time in history we have children 'born in captivity'; the notion being here that they are confined, trapped, observed and not free to explore and develop independently. Young children need regular outdoor experiences, not only to develop physically, but cognitively, creatively, and socially. Many schools especially within urban areas, do not have outside spaces they can easily access and so children rarely experience learning within an outdoor environment. Schools state that transporting children to off site outdoor locations is logistically and financially taxing; they consider the negatives to outweigh the positives. In order to give children access to the many proven benefits of outdoor learning an effort needs to be made to improve the accessibility of such spaces. This poster outlines the considerations schools must take into account when planning to improve their outdoor learning environment.
Schools work hard to forge and maintain strong links with parents/carers. Involving parents/carers in developments positively reinforces parent-school relationships by including them they are involved in decision making and are empowered. Schools should ask for their likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. This can be done through an after-school 'conference' style event, or a questionnaire sent home. Parents can give useful insights and provide skills that might aid in the construction and design of the garden. Encouraging parents to use the space with their children creates positive associations with the space; positivity means improved learning! Dads in particular bond excellently with their children in outdoor activities e.g. planting vegetables and harvesting them later in the year to cook!
Teacher and staff involvement in design is as crucial as the learners. The teachers, TAs and other support staff will be leading activities within the outside areas; sustainability of the design is therefore reliant on their input and emotional investment. One way for adults to appraise the site is though techniques such as 'the good, the bad, and the ugly', with stickers, maps and simple photographs used to physically label areas of the outside environment. This creates a really visual impression of both good and bad areas.

Studies suggest that teachers who include outdoor learning within their teaching experience higher levels of self of enthusiasm and motivation.
When developing an area for outdoor learning it is im
portant to focus on
the learning objectives for the pupils in the school. Fo
r example if Ofsted
have outlined that they would like to see a rise in the
standard of English
provisions can be made within outdoor learning to facil
itate and embellish
this focus. Research proves that children experienci
ng scents, sounds,
textures and colours within the outdoor environment
will have a more
accurate use of adjectives in their literacy than if they h
ad studied entirely
in the classroom. Building an area within the school in which children can gain first hand experience of multi-sensory learning is of immense benefit. Clear boundaries should exist between different focus areas of the outdoor environment e.g. an area for scents sounds textures (Literacy), ponds and wilderness (Science and Ecosystems) play equipment areas for risk taking and team building. Children 'read' their environment as a set of symbols indicating what they are expected to do, think and feel in a space physically dividing areas designed to stimulate different areas of learning should therefor be separate so children can remain engaged on their focus.
Learning in the outdoors can be one of the most inclusive environments for learners. With an emphasis on practical or kinistetic learning styles children that may struggle in more traditionally academic subjects can flourish. The boost in confidence children experience when working in the outdoors will translate into an enjoyment of learning. Giving pupils responsibilities within the outdoor area will give them a sense of ownership and boost their confidence. Growing vegetables, keeping livestock or having gardening clubs benefit all students equally. Within the classroom classes are often divided into ability groups, when outside these classifications are less enforced and children often collaborate in mixed ability groups. Children that can display challenging behavior whilst inside the classroom will often flourish when outside. These children often prefer a kinestetic approach to learning and have low self esteem and respond well to responsibilities and challenged presented to them within the 'real-world' scenarios of outdoor learning.

Curriculum Relevance
It is a common misconception that learning outside the classroom has narrow curriculum relevance; maybe people believe that only science, geography and perhaps art can be effectively supported by outdoor based activities. This is however not that case. What we should instead be challenging is the concept of the 'classroom'. What makes the classroom such a special place? Schools should view the outdoor environment as a classroom without walls, rather than something that is separate from curricular learning. The core values of Curriculum for Excellence echo the key concepts of outdoor learning: challenge, enjoyment, relevance, depth, development of the whole person and an adventurous approach to learning. Outdoor learning is detrimental to children's emotional, social and cognitive development. By learning through engaging and positive mediums outdoors children can contextualize curriculum subjects leading to better enthusiasm and understanding.
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